would

Forms Would is a ‘modal auxiliary verb’ (see 202). There is no -s in the third person singular; questions and negatives are made without do; after would, we use the infinitive without to. Meaning We use would as a past form of will, or as a less definite, ‘softer’ form of will. Compare: I’ll be…

dilemma / quandary

Both of these words are used for complicated and problematic situations, but there is a small difference between them. A quandary is when you don’t know what to do; you are in a state of uncertainty. A dilemma is a situation where you have to choose between options that all seem bad in some way….

every day / everyday

Everyday (one word) is an adjective to describe something else: It’s easy to get stressed out by everyday problems. (everyday describes problems) These shoes are great for everyday wear. (everyday describes wear) When talking about how frequently something occurs, use every day (two words): I study English every day. I walk my dog every day.

fee / fare / tax

These words describe an amount of money that needs to be paid – but they’re used in different situations. Fare is used only for transportation: The bus fare is the cost of the bus ticket The train fare is the cost of the train ticket The taxi fare is the cost of taking a taxi…

persons / peoples

In everyday English, the plural form of person is people: One person came to the English class. Two people came to the English class. The word peoples means two or more people groups: There are various indigenous peoples living in the Amazon. Many different languages are spoken among the peoples of Africa. The word persons…

city / downtown / town

A city is larger than a town. New York City, Boston, Miami, and Los Angeles are examples of cities. All state or country capitals are cities; cities usually have some significant political, economic or cultural importance. The word town refers to a smaller population center. And a very small population center – even smaller than…

aid / assist / help

There is no difference in meaning between these three words, but there are some slight differences in the way they fit in the sentence. Help is the most common and most informal (aid and assist are both more formal). Aid is more commonly used as a noun, not a verb: a hearing aid is a…

sale / sell

Sell is a verb and sale is a noun: – I’m going to sell my car and buy a new one. – She’s selling bottles of water at the football game. – Yesterday I sold all of my old college textbooks on the internet. – The bookstore is having a Christmas sale – everything is…

little / small

Small is only used for physical size (a big apartment / a small apartment). Little can be used for: Size (The cake is decorated with little flowers.) Amount (Can I have a little milk for my coffee?) Degree (I’m a little nervous.) Size with an emotional expression. This emotional expression can be: Adoration: Look at…

politics / policy

Politics means the world of government in general: The vice-president has a long career in politics. I hate discussing politics with my family because it always turns into an argument. Sometimes people talk about “office politics” outside the context of government -this means the connections and actions that people inside a company take in order…

hostel / hotel / motel

A hotel is a place you stay while traveling or on vacation. The word motel comes from “motor hotel” and is a hotel for motorists (drivers). They are usually found near highways, so you can stay there when you are driving a long distance and need to stop for the night. Motels usually have very…

decent / descent / dissent

The adjective decent (DEE – sint) describes something good, satisfactory, or civilized: My job’s not very glamorous, but I earn a decent salary. He might seem a bit cold, but he’s a decent guy once you get to know him. I’m selling a used laptop in decent condition. The noun descent (di – SENT) has…

review / revise

If you review a document, it means you read it and examine it (and maybe have some ideas to improve it) – but you don’t make any changes. If you revise a document, it means you change the text to correct errors or make improvements. When preparing for a test, it’s a good idea to…

too / very

Very and too have different meanings. Consider this example: I have $100. This bottle of wine costs $90. It’s very expensive, but I can buy it. That bottle of wine costs $150. It’s too expensive, so I can’t buy it. “Very” in front of an adjective amplifies it. To amplify something even more than “very,”…

haven’t / don’t have

The verb have is used both as a main verb and as a helping verb: Main verb (possession): I have a computer. I have a dog. Helping verb (present perfect): I have done my homework. We have finished the work. There are two ways to make the negative form of have: 1. Don’t have /…

dirty / messy

If an area is messy, it means it is disorganized, with many various objects all over the place. A messy area needs to be organized and things put in their proper places. My desk is so messy – there are piles of documents everywhere. I can’t find anything I need. But if an area is…

till / until

Till is just a short form of until, and in spoken English, you can use either one with no difference in meaning: You can’t watch TV until you finish your homework. or You can’t watch TV till you finish your homework. I’ll be in a meeting until 3:30. or I’ll be in a meeting till…

hard / hardly

Hard can be an adjective or an adverb – and the adjective form has two meanings! This book is too hard for me. I can’t read it. (hard = adjective = difficult) This mattress is too hard. I can’t sleep. (hard = adjective = rigid, the opposite of “soft”) She’s working hard to finish the…

lay / lie

This is the technical difference between lay and lie: You lay an object onto a surface. Could you lay those mats on the floor, please? She laid the books on the table. The workers are laying the carpet in the new building. Again, you lay an object onto a surface. But a person/thing lies (itself)…

could / should / would

Use should and shouldn’t to ask for and give advice and suggestions: “I’ve had a really bad headache for the past week.” “That’s not good – you should go to the doctor.” “I want to make more friends, but I don’t know how.” “First of all, you shouldn’t spend so much time on the computer….

die / died / dead

Die is the verb in the present, and died is the verb in the past: He’s very sick; the doctors say he’s going to die. The nurse comforted the dying soldier. One of the country’s most famous authors died last week. Dead is the adjective, so we often use it with the verb “to be,”…

concern / concerned / concerning

If you say someone is concerned, it means that person is worried: I’m concerned about my son – he’s not getting good grades in school. I live in a big city, and my mother is concerned for my safety. We’re concerned that we won’t be able to finish the project in time. You can also…

Indian / indigenous / Native American

The word Indian is for people from the country of India. The word indigenous is used to describe native peoples of the land who lived there before the arrival of colonizers. However, some people use “Indian” for indigenous people. It is not correct, but people do it anyway – this is because the earliest European…

as far as / as long as / as soon as

Use as long as for: Time – when talking about a long period: – “I’ll stay with you as long as you want.” A condition that is a requirement: – “You can go to the party as long as you’re back by 11 PM.” Use as soon as for: Time – when one thing happens…

raise / rise / arise

The basic meaning is the same – for something to go up to a higher level. The difference is that raise must have a direct object (one thing is making another thing go up) whereas rise does not have a direct object (one thing is going up by itself). Here are some examples: Something raises…

enough / too

Enough means you have what is sufficient/necessary; too means you have more than what is sufficient/necessary. There are a few important details about their word order in the sentence: TOO too + adjective This shirt is too expensive. It costs $30 and I have only $25. too much + uncountable noun I drank too much…

answer / reply / respond

These verbs have essentially the same meaning. You can: answer an email reply to an email (most common when talking about e-mail) respond to an email When someone calls you, you answer the phone (or pick up the phone). When you make a statement or some comments, we usually say the other person replies or…

replace / substitute

Both of these words mean to put something in place of another, but there are a few differences in usage. Let’s look at two cases: with people and with objects. Replacements tend to be long-term or permanent. They often involve something of the same type: – If a part in your car breaks, you need…

so / very / a lot

Use a lot of before nouns to mean a large quantity or a high number. “A lot of’ can be used with both countable and uncountable nouns. There were a lot of students in the classroom. I drank a lot of water during the marathon. Use verb + a lot to mean “very much” or…

regretful / regrettable

A person who feels regret is regretful. The incident or situation that causes regret is regrettable: The murderer said he was deeply regretful of the pain he had caused the victim’s family. I’m regretful of my decision not to study abroad. I should have traveled when I had the chance. The church had to be…